October 21, 2007: The day David Nalbandian achieved Madrid glory after dismissing Big Three

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On this day in tennis history, the Argentinian beat the Big Three en route to winning the Madrid Masters. Find out how he did it.

What happened 

On this day, October 21, 2007, David Nalbandian, world No 25 at the time, defeated world No 1 Roger Federer (1-6, 6-3, 6-3) in the final of the Masters 1000 in Madrid, putting the cherry on top of an amazing week where he had already defeated world No 2 Rafael Nadal, and world No 3 Novak Djokovic. Thirteen years later, the Argentinian would remain the only player to have beaten these three players in the same tournament.

The guys involved

David Nalbandian was born in 1982 and was one of the most gifted players of his generation, displaying a very smooth technique and a wonderful two-handed backhand. Very successful as a junior, he made himself famous in 2002, when he reached the Wimbledon final at the age of 20, defeated by Lleyton Hewitt (6-1, 6-3, 6-2). The following year, he lost to Andy Roddick in the US Open semi-final (6-7, 3-6, 7-6, 6-1, 6-3), and in 2004, the Argentinian made his way to the final four at Roland-Garros (lost to Gaston Gaudio, 6-3, 7-6, 6-0). He won the most important tournament of his career at the Masters Cup in 2005, defeating Roger Federer in the final (6-7, 6-7, 6-2, 6-1, 7-6).  In 2006, Nalbandian became one of the few players to have at least reached the semi-final in every Grand Slam, when he reached the semi-final at the Australian Open (defeated by Marcos Badghdatis, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4). 

Considered as one of the best players to have never claimed a Grand Slam title, he struggled with injuries most of the year in 2007. World No 8 at the start of the year, he was only No 25 in October and had reached just one single final so far.

Roger Federer, the Swiss genius, aged 26, was world No 1 without a break since February 2, 2004. Since 2003, he had won twelve Grand Slams: the Australian Open (2004, 2006, 2007), Wimbledon (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007) and the US Open (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007).  In 2006, his best year, he claimed twelve titles including three Grand Slams, the Masters Cup and four Masters Series. He had a record of 92 wins and only 5 losses, four of these against his only serious rival at the time, Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard was the main reason Federer hadn’t won the French Open yet:  he lost against him in the semi-final in 2005 (6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3) and in the final in 2006 (1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6) and 2007 (6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4). He had started 2007 by winning the Australian Open without dropping a set, beating Fernando Gonzales in the last round (7-6, 6-4, 6-4). He then had a peculiar Indian Wells/Miami tour where he lost twice against the same player, Guillermo Canas from Argentina, who was coming back on the tour after being suspended for using a banned substance. Back in shape in spring, Federer triumphed in Hamburg, defeating his Spanish nemesis on clay for the first time in the final (2-6, 6-2, 6-0), but at the French Open, Nadal beat him again in the final. The Swiss took his revenge upon the lefty at Wimbledon, where prevailed in the final after a five-set combat (7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 2-6, 6-2), and he secured his No 1 spot by triumphing at Flushing Meadows, defeating Novak Djokovic in the final (7-6, 7-6, 6-4).

The place

The Madrid Masters 1000 had been established in 2002, taking the spot previously held by the Stuttgart Open. It was played on indoor hard courts at the Madrid Arena, a venue which was unveiled in 2002 and could host 12,000 spectators.The former champions of the Madrid Masters 1000 were Andre Agassi (2002), Juan Carlos Ferrero (2003), Marat Safin (2004), Rafael Nadal (2005) and Roger Federer (2006).

The facts

After he had played far from his best level in the past fifteen months, no one expected David Nalbandian to reach the final at the Madrid Masters 1000. After that rankings slump, in order to make his way to the final, he had to beat both Rafael Nadal  and Novak Djokovic. 

However, the Argentinian had always been one of the best players in the world when he was motivated and fit. In the quarter-finals, he dismissed the Spaniard in straight sets, 6-1, 6-2. In the next round, he confirmed his great shape, outplaying Djokovic, 6-4, 7-6, to set up a final clash against Federer.

“This is a very important win for me as I haven’t had a good year,” Nalbandian said, according to atptour.com. “I had some physical problems this year but I’ve been working hard, regained confidence, and today I got the reward on the court.”

The Swiss knew how dangerous Nalbandian could be. He had lost his first five encounters with the Argentinian, in 2002 and 2003, and although he was now up 8-6 in their rivalry, his loss in the final of the 2005 Masters Cup was there to remind not to take victory for granted.

The world No 1 made a strong start, taking the first set, 6-1, but then, pressured by Nalbandian’s pace and precision, he started missing more. After an hour and forty-nine minutes of play, the Argentinian triumphed, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3. No one had ever beaten Federer, Nadal and Djokovic in the same tournament, and the Nalbandian was the second player in tennis history to defeat the three top-ranked players in the world consecutively, after Boris Becker at the Stockholm Open in 1994.

“I was very focused, knowing I’d have to play incredibly to win and everything went right for me,” Nalbandian said. “It was a big boost for me to beat so many good players here this week.”

 “I guess when you beat Nadal and Djokovic back-to-back you come into the final feeling better than ever,” said Federer. “It was a pity I couldn’t stop him today.”

What next 

Two weeks later, Nalbandian would achieve another extraordinary feat, beating both Federer and Nadal a second time to triumph at the Paris Masters 1000, finishing the year as world No 9.

It would be his last season finishing in the top 10. Struggling with motivation, not as fit as in his prime, Nalbandian would never beat a top 3 player again, nor would he reach the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam tournament. In 2012, he would be defaulted in the final of the Queen’s Club Championships after unfortunately kicking a linesman in a burst of anger. Nalbandian would retire in October 2013.

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